outward bound march 2019

AND SO OFF. This brief resumé is simply an outline account for me to keep a handle on what transpired as we journeyed to Sablet this first time in the year, and associate the odd image here and there with our progress south. I do make brief notes normally but they are without imagery or descriptives:- essentially a did this, did that, sort-of-a-thing. Perhaps this post will be similar, who knows, here goes . . .

WE WERE UP AT FOUR PM  (0400 if you insist) on 20th inst and such is the efficiency of our operations at that time of the day, we were smartly away at 0435, in light drizzle. we drove via Exeter and Honiton through to Poole and had three-quarters of an hour spare before the reporting deadline. Once on board the trusty Barfleur (upon which we have so often crossed over to La France, and can still recall the son-and-heir playing in the toddler play area as a toddler, and the teeth gritting this caused at times). The ship has been about a bit since then mind but has been tastefully refitted at least once to retain a degree of contemporary comfort. We gave little heed however: after eating some shockingly leathery toast we  took to our day cabin and caught up on the sleep we missed out on getting up so early, so that we were refreshed for our exit onto Francofirma at Cherbourg, a mostly sunny afternoon drive to a late lunch of home provender in the car, in a car park, in the enticing looking town of Bricquebec.

After this pause we missed our planned onward road by a turn so took the more westerly alternative down to Avranches and our hotel. Which we found without mishap or further missed turnings. After dumping our kit we trundled into town to locate a crêperie and before enjoying that, went into the hillside park to view Mont St. Michel backlit by the rays of the westering sun. All good; crêpes, hotel and night's rest most satisfactory.

THE SECOND DAY OF TRAVEL [21st] was the longest in miles, prosecuted under cloudless skies and moderately warm sun, after a chilly start. An excellent if pricey pair of grande-crêmes with first division croissants only five miles on at Ducey set us up nicely for the day. Nothing untoward occurred (sorry, this is probably not what you were hoping for) and we enjoyed our progression through pleasant, if not spectacular countryside, on mostly quiet roads. Around mid-day we crossed the bridge below, turned back and ate the excellent sandwiches we had purchased earlier at Ducey on the riverside illustrated herewith and below. This was at a village called Lavardin and the river is Le Loir (not The Loire but a principle tributary of same…) – chiff-chaffs singing, ducks dabbling and light breezes riffling the silven flow. Most pleasant.

Thereafter, Mrs Melling took the odd corner off our route en route and added the odd extra mile here and there; there was some confusion at Blois, even the odd unkind word was exchanged, but all in all we had a most convivial drive right into the centre of Bourges for a revisit to the city's spiffing cathedral.

We like this one and I think I might even count it as my favourite amongst French gothic wonders, on account of it having double aisles right round the ambulatory as well as being sans transepts (I have nothing against transepts but if aisles are to go right round then transepts rather mess that up; at Bourges the transepts are reduced to simple exterior porches albeit with many sculpted figures attached therein. I took the picture (left) in 1991… see? still no transepts.
This noble edifice provided Adam's first experience of a cathedral, back when, and he took it in as only a wondering baby can, head thrust back, eyes wide in awe and testing the acoustics of the nave in between pauses associated with the organ being sounded in practice mode.  We have been a few times since but our last drop-by was curtailed by a funeral . . . These latest photographs don't do the space in there justice, but still:

It took a while to find our hotel from this slightly unplanned approach to Bourges : the traffic was heavy and we got ourselves on the right road but in the wrong direction for a short while; but it came right in the end. So it was that we drove out to St Florent sur Cher for a pizza, the only place open and as luck would have it, most acceptable. We also gave the Skoda some victuals but I am sorry to say the motor from thence forward was loathe to start promptly; I wonder if the fuel was a bit gritty or something -- it came from a reputable source. Anyway, it worried me and at time of writing it still does, slightly. Dash it, it is almost new!

MARCH TWENTY-SECOND and the elder brother Terry's birthday: I sent him a card. JS Bach's was yesterday: I didn't send Johanns one as he has been deceased since 1750. After getting the car started (it behaved entirely normally on the road, it is just getting going, initially) we followed the route described in the previous blog to this – and had the worst breakfast ever at a place called Cérilly where we were presented with the dregs of UHT milk in a scruffy tetrabric and half a cup each of barely-warm weak coffee in cups without saucers: Mrs M only managed to acquire but one croissant!! –we had to stop in the next village to retrieve the situation…

Some additional variation was employed to better take in the Loire Gorges, flooded and dammed to provide hydro-electric power and possibly some water, to Roanne etc.

Lovely weather.  Quiet and often deceptively narrow roads but nowhere much for lunch (the only likely place, waterside, had frogs legs and chips but no takers so we simply sank a glass of liquid refreshment and used the loo);  thus it was that we assembled the last of our hardboiled eggs and cold sausages, crisps etc, and 'made do'.

The landscape picture above is the panoramic view from the top of the tower in Saint Maurice-sur-Loire (see upper left); we went on to and across the Barrage-de-Villerest, the principle controlling dam-plus-power station on this stretch of the upper Loire. That is a bit of it (left); it was being overflown by the occasional sand-marten while we inspected it.

The picture below shows what was once a castle on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Loire, but now is an island castle, usually surrounded on three sides by the slow flowing reservoir waters of the much tampered with upper reaches. It's name escapes me: Mrs Melling probably mentions it in her blog.

After putting away such refreshment that we had, Mrs Melling then amended our route to avoid the busy valley routes leading to St Etienne: we took to the hills gaining long views of snow capped Alps and glimpses across to what I maintain must have been the upper snow-caked levels of the Central Massif. Lovely country, blossom arriving big time.

When we finally left the uplands we found ourselves in a rather busy Givors and almost at a loss as to how to get to anywhere where we might cross the Rhône. Traffic was shocking, signposting even more so; so we fought our way up the west bank of the river for a mile or two when we finally got to a bridge Mrs Melling identified as extant, which proved almost jammed up with Friday evening traffic too, but from which nevertheless we achieved a route to our rather comfortable hotel in a somewhat noisy corner betwixt motorway and railway. In fact, there was almost immediately, upon arriving in the sanctuary of our en suite,  an autoroute shunt (clump crash crumple clonk) just beyond our window, to add even more chaos to the traffic trundling in all directions. Be assured, no one was hurt save the vehicles involved (as far as we could tell) but it took quite a while to clear up and reopen the lanes affected. Incidentally that window in our room was almost soundproof when closed so traffic noise was not an issue in the obtaining of our revitalising repose later on.

Hopes of eating at a nearby renowned restaurant were dashed when we strode out to it: fully booked. It looked very inviting. Worst still there was nowhere else save the Campanile hotel restaurant down there and the nose-to-tail traffic precluded any idea of getting out the motor again. The shame of it! We bit our lip and went in. It was the usual bland experience. OK but only OK.

OUR CONCLUDING TRANSIT day was straight forward enough but I found the charms of the Rhône corridor have somewhat faded for me, now: not so the charms of the fine wines of Crozes-Hermitage (see left!) that are cultivated therein, overlooking Tournon. We breakfasted successfully at said town after a search for the croissant, sat in the sun, watched the river boat passengers go off by the coachload, then crossed and recrossed the Rhône, leaving the river valley at Charme for the lovely country of the Drôme via Crest. Once more Madame la navigatrice inventively introduced us to quite spectacular limestone country south of Crest, around Saou and Soyans, in cloudless skies and warming sunshine, ultimately arriving at Valreas to catch up with some supermarket shopping; then hey-ho into Sablet, arriving at 13.15, to unlock, unpack and relish the superb light, the warmth, and to try and get some of that into the cold house. All well, just the odd patch of flaking paint to repatch and further peeling of shutter paint to shrug the shoulders at…

That's it then, in a nutshell. The car is still not starting promptly despite fresh petroleum distillate… wouldn't have happened with the Berlingo… it was a diesel.

Footnote: The Vaucluse weather was wonderful upon arrival and one could sit in the sun without a coat. However, on Monday the Mistral blew in to remind us that winter has only recently relinquished command. Warm out-of-the-wind corners could be found where basking remained possible (like round by the empty fountain by the library) but our terrace at No.1 Rue-FB was a no-no. All potted plants withdrawn until risk of loss and wind-burn is passed.

The minimum temperature in the house during the winter months absence did not drop below 5.9° however, reassuring, and thus mild as Sablet winters go. Two days of blowing and now we are back to calm, mostly. Maximum temperature so far (March)  comes in at 23.5°C. Clouds? a distant memory. Not bad huh? Oh dear, now I am beginning to miss the rain…


exit from brexit

AS THE TSUNAMI OF BREXIT approaches strong believers in the EU like ourselves are being battered and harassed by the realisation that things will never be the same again and that the UK is set to become that potty little fiefdom off the coast of where it's at, its nose in the air and its economy down the toilet. More or less.

We've had it up to here with the stupidity of it all; we are therefore bent on ensuring that if Article 50 is imposed on 29 March (and at the time of writing it just might get delayed a month or two) we at least will have exited and be on the other side of the ditch, even if it leaves us holding the wrong travel insurance, invalid driving licences, whatever. I may run to a GB sticker for the motor, just in case (we've updated our breathalyser).

We are expecting to meet up with our chums of similar disposition on the Sablet circuit thereat to wring our hands collectively a bit more, no doubt – then continue once more as if nothing has happened. Anyway, we always planned to make this spring voyage to the light and joy of Vaucluse and are determined not to let a 'democratic' national death wish by a so called majority in the shires call time on us – just yet.

You will be keen to familiarise yourself with our route out, I am sure:

OK so you couldn't give a toss, but there it is anyway: Gorges & Bourges  –and such is our nervousness at what chaos may ensue after 'the divorce' we have booked the hotels and ferry back again, to ensure we can deliver the son-and-heir back to the satanic shelves of Bath by due date, not that there is likely to be much to stack by that time as the food shortages take hold, as the trucks back up forlornly at ferry ports in their attempt to bring in the provender that heretofore flowed seamlessly into the motherland as well as out…

Keen observers will note that we are utilising the Poole crossing this spring (after an absence of a year or two) and not overnighting either, whilst on the high seas. This means an early start from the homestead, oh dear, but in recognition of our growing maturity we have secured a day cabin so that we can take our repose, recover lost hours of slumber and disembark refreshed, with some energy in the tank for the drive to our first overnighter. I am sure you will be reassured by this, thank you for your concern.

As ever, we are investing in another variation: roads not altogether unfamiliar to Mrs Melling and self (are there any such left?) but in a new arrangement and order, resurrecting  the approach to Vaucluse down the Rhône Valley in part as well as probable passage through some of the gorges of the Loire. A chance to revisit a favourite cathedral at Bourges is included (double aisles right round the ambulatory, as you are probably aware).
But not in that order.
The northbound, Bullsmead-bound journey concluding the spring fixture in this darkling year, incorporates some aspects of the west coast and runs to no less than a four hotel extravagance. It affords an opportunity to take a closer look at Bayonne (avoiding the acquisition of a warning parking ticket this time, I trust) and, if the cards fall right, we should get ourselves up to the top of the St Martin (Biarritz) lighthouse!! Joy! – not written in to the itinerary but politely understood between the party members as a desirable target feature.

 Here it our return routlet, subject to the usual caviats, namely whims and fancies on route:

Yes, of course, there is always a lighthouse; I make no apology (it was Mrs Melling who sussed out that it might be possible to get in and up the Pointe St Martin light this time): fermé when we visited in 2017. Built (well, designed) by Fresnel himself, y'know. Fresnel? Only the father of lighthouse optics, that's all – look him up, I've prompted you before about  Freznel! The king of optics.

We also anticipate introducing the offspring to the wonders of the Contis paint-job en route (see last spring!), and taking a half day concluding dawdle round a bit of the north coast of Brittany… So we will almost certainly mop up the odd harbour light and salute one or two previously scored phares before we trudge off to Roscoff for the debatable pleasures of a daytime ferry back to Plymouth. Then, no doubt, after a return to the old-time drag of trying to get through post brexit customs without losing the will to live, we should get back to Bullsmead Towers before May 14 comes to an end.

Questions concerning these progresses may be forwarded to me at any time between now and then; you will already be completely familiar with my desire to make all as transparent as possible to my public whoever he or she may be. The Atlas Michelin 2014 has not been replaced with an update as it still has all its pages; although worn, it is still serviceable, and smells rather nice.

Sadly I have to report that this return has had to be put on hold. We hope to do it now in the autumn; we have to get back sooner than originally planned, without the son-and-heir coming out to do it with us, all due to a very significant family bereavement. 
Stuff happens… but not Brexit… we will return as we left, i.e, as EU citizens still!